Innovation From Concept to Commercialization

ULC Robotics to Develop Leak Detection & Repair Robot to Prevent Methane Emissions

ULC Robotics

ULC Robotics has been awarded a contract by the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a prototype robotic system for inline leak detection and repair of live transmission and distribution natural gas mains. This Phase II award was conferred after ULC successfully completed a 10-month Phase I project to study inline leak detection, develop internal repair methods, and assess the feasibility of the robotic system.

“We are working to create a solution to quickly limit the methane emissions from leaks in natural gas pipelines and make pipelines safer,” says Aalap Shah, R&D Project Manager at ULC Robotics. “The robot will operate in pipelines that are not always readily accessible, such as pipeline below roadways or railways. By instituting temporary repairs pipeline operators will be able to maintain service and avoid loss of supply during critical periods.”

Traditionally, crews must be dispatched to perform bar-holing to pinpoint the location of a leak—a lengthy and labor-intensive process during which excessive methane may be released into the atmosphere. Conventional methods also require extensive excavation, which is costly, disrupts gas service to customers, and can cause traffic or public transit delays.

Using cutting-edge component technologies and the latest robotic design concepts, the robot will detect, locate, and classify leaks. Once identified, the robot will instantly deploy a rapid repair method to seal damaged areas and enable the pipeline to continue operating temporarily for up to two years, until permanent repairs can be made.

Because the robot will be able to perform repairs immediately and does not require traditional excavation, pipeline operators will see a significant reduction in O&M costs, as well as the amount of methane emissions being released into the environment.

After completing the project, ULC will focus on prototype improvements, pilot testing, and deployment within live transmission and distribution mains.

ULC Robotics to Streamline Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Maintenance

ULC Robotics

With over 200,000 miles of hazardous liquid pipeline spanning the US, the need to ensure the integrity of these pipelines is tremendous. Pipeline operators are under pressure to perform meticulous in-line inspections and accurately collect data in order to maintain the security of crude oil, refined petroleum, and biofuel pipelines.

Using funding from the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, ULC will study the feasibility of using guided wave Electromagnetic Acoustic Transducer (EMAT) technology to create an enhanced dual-purpose in-line inspection tool. Able to integrate with existing internal cleaning systems, the tool will streamline inspection and maintenance operations into a single process.

EMAT technology uses a permanent magnet and electric coil to generate ultrasonic waves, allowing it to measure wall thickness and detect, assess, and characterize defects or material properties. Over the last five years, ULC has made significant advancements in the research, development, and commercialization of this technology. Most notable is the integration of wall thickness measurement EMAT technology into ULC’s CIRRIS XI™, an in-line inspection robot for cast iron natural gas distribution mains. Since then, ULC has continued to develop expertise in guided wave EMAT for the inspection of steel and cast iron pipelines to identify corrosion and cracks.

Through further research, design, and testing ULC will work to maximize guided wave EMAT sensor sensitivity to defects and produce live inspection data for immediate remedial action. The resulting dual-purpose tool will enter the pipeline through existing pig traps to simultaneously perform cleaning operations while inspecting for defects such as wall loss and cracks, presenting a low-cost, lightweight solution.

By integrating such an inspection tool with an existing cleaning system both processes will be completed in a single pass, reducing operating costs while performing critical maintenance and providing unparalleled insight into asset health. The tool will ultimately enable pipeline operators to ensure the safety and integrity of their mains and prevent potential hazardous leaks and spills.

SBIR Pipe Dwelling Robot

ULC Robotics to Develop Pipe Dwelling Robot with Funding From the US Department of Energy

ULC Robotics

ULC Robotics is taking the first steps toward developing a robot that will permanently reside within high-pressure gas transmission mains so that it can be called up to instantaneously repair emergency leaks and perform routine inspection and maintenance activities.

With funding from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Small Business Innovation Research program, ULC will evaluate the feasibility of developing this smart pipeline inspection robotic system, as well as its integration with existing supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) networks. Once mobilized by the SCADA operator the robot would conduct rapid repairs within live conditions, as well as execute inspections for the prevention of leaks.

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